By Norris Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 25, 2009 - An Arkansas father-and-son team is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' massive rebuilding efforts in Iraq. Denver and Eric Gillespie, both Navy veterans and ACE employees, soon will complete their six-month tours. What made the deployment so special was meeting, working with and getting to know the Iraqi people, they said.
The Gillespies are construction representatives with the Adder Area Office here. Denver is overseeing $150 million in projects, including the expansion of the Tallil airfield, the new Ur Location Command for the Iraqi army, and upgrading two electrical substations in Dhi Qar province.
Eric is helping to ensure quality work at seven projects worth more than $50 million, including the new 80-bed Maysan surgical hospital, the Iraqi army's new Maymona Location Command, expansion of two roads, and the upgrade of the Amarah landfill with a new incinerator, all in Maysan province.
One of the highlights of the tour, they said, was visiting Al Haboosh Primary School in December to hand out toys, soccer balls and school supplies to the 225 students there.
The school is next to a new $650,000 water treatment plant that will provide access to clean water to that community for the first time. The local tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Razak, said residents there historically had just pumped raw water out of the local canal for household use.
"It is very bad water," he said. "This project is important for the health of everyone who lives here. It's a great sign of progress."
Eric noted many of the students at that school were the same age as his sons, Drake, 7, and Caleb, 6.
"It was great to see their smiles," he said. "They were so appreciative of what we're trying to do."
Denver said he's grateful to get an opportunity to see this part of the world and get a first-hand look at geographical landmarks mentioned in the Bible, such as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham was raised.
Denver has been a volunteer minister for the past 15 years, and when he retires April 1, will become the full-time pastor at the McJester Baptist Church in Pangburn, Ark.
"In Iraq, family is everything" Denver explained. "Whether the father is a truck driver or a camel herder, you see their sons close by learning the trade, being mentored, getting schooled about life. It's a bond that I admire."
The Gillespies have a close-knit family, as well. Back in the states, they live near each other in Tumbling Shoals, Ark., and enjoy camping and going to church together. During their time off in Iraq, they lift weights together, go to aerobics classes and are members of the district softball team. "It's been a blast," Denver said.
They also helped to barbecue steaks and hamburgers to recognize Adder Area Office's Iraqi engineers who visit those construction sites daily.
"They are on our staff and do a tremendous job, Eric said. "These individuals all have college degrees, are very knowledgeable about our procedures, and they are willing to risk their lives every day to try to make their community a better place for their children and grandchildren. They've earned our utmost respect."
Denver and Eric are Navy veterans. Denver was a boiler technician on the aircraft carrier USS Midway during the Vietnam War. Eric was a machinist mate on the aircraft carrier USS Constellation. Denver also spent time as an anti-submarine warfare operator.
Denver plans to retire soon after returning stateside. He says the Iraq deployment was a great way to finish his 34-year career with USACE, where he serves as the senior electrician at the Greers Ferry hydroelectric power station -- the same facility where his father worked and also retired.
Eric has been with USACE for nine years and is an operator and diver at Murray Lock and Dam near Little Rock. He said hopes to get an opportunity to relocate to Greers Ferry to become the third generation of Gillespies to work there.
"It's been awesome getting this chance to serve with Dad - being part of his last hurrah before he closes this chapter on his life," Eric said. "We're both very proud to be members of the USACE team here - seeing how appreciative the Iraqi people are of our efforts. We are making a difference."
(Norris Jones works in the public affairs office of Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South district.)